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January 23, 2013

City launches ‘Safe Streets Pledge’ to curb distracted driving

By Jessica Strachan
C & G Staff Writer

SOUTHFIELD — Eating, drinking, grooming, texting, talking, using navigation systems, even changing the radio are all types of distracted driving that Southfield Police Chief Eric Hakwins and his team are on the lookout for, more than ever before.

“We’ve even seen people watching videos while driving,” he said. “We get a lot of complaints from residents about (distracted driving) and we really can make an impact by addressing it.”

That’s the premise behind the city’s new Safe Streets Pledge program.

Increased traffic patrolling is paired with residents’ pledges to focus on the roads and report distracted drivers in order to curb traffic incidents.

“The Safe Streets Pledge is our way of connecting with residents in the community who share our philosophy that traffic safety and courtesy on the road make for a safer city,” Hawkins said, noting that more visibility in neighborhoods and increased traffic enforcement are things residents have approached him about the most.

“Anyone who pledges, I’ll personally respond to them,” Hawkins promised. “This is to encourage them with safe habits, but also to encourage them to encourage others to join the initiative. Our hope is that we get as many residents involved as we can.”

Hawkins said areas near schools and specific intersections, such as 12 Mile and Telegraph, will be targeted, and that city officials have high hopes that programs like this one will carry forth the trend of declining crime rates in the city.

“Crime is down in all major categories in the city, a lot of which is because of programs like Safe Streets,” Hawkins added.

Michael Manion, community relations manager for the city who also worked on developing the program, said that distracted driving is an issue metro areas all over the country are facing.

“It’s a major initiative we’re rolling out,” Manion said. “It’s really an effort to curb distracted driving, one of the leading causes of (traffic) accidents. This is a mutual pledge to keep roads safe on our end, and asking others to do their part, too.”

To join in the initiative, residents and even visitors are encouraged to take the Southfield Safe Streets Pledge and commit to doing their part to keeping the streets of the community safe. The pledge, driver’s safety education and other information can be found at www.cityofsouthfield.com.

In return, authorities will focus on locations with a high number of traffic accidents, take a zero-tolerance approach to distracted drivers — especially motorists who are texting while driving — patrol for drivers who disobey stop signs and traffic signals, and also focus on speeders in residential areas and near schools.

Hawkins pointed out that,  nationwide, distracted drivers are 23 times more likely to be involved in an accident on the road, leading to 330,000 people being injured annually as a result.

Facts like those are plentiful, he said, which is why education and awareness are a big part of the program.

Hawkins said the department is preparing with some internal reorganization that trains officers to multitask and gives more flexibility for officers to be on patrol.

“People in the community always tell me that they are very satisfied with the work that our officers are doing in the community. They are very proud of the officers,” Hawkins said. “But they also tell me two things: They’d like to see increased traffic enforcement in the city and increased levels of police visibility in the neighborhoods. We wanted to come up with a program that could accomplish those goals, and that’s what we did.”

Residents who witness traffic violations are asked to call the nonemergency line, (248) 796-GOTM (4686), and leave a voicemail with any information they can provide to help with the program.

For more information about the Southfield Safe Streets Pledge or other public safety programs, contact the Southfield Police Department at (248) 796-5435 or the Southfield Fire Department at (248) 796-5650.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Jessica Strachan at jstrachan@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1108.